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Stormont Executive mixed messages 'unhelpful,' says Naomi Long as Sinn Fein says coronavirus testing should be ramped up


Justice Minister Naomi Long

Justice Minister Naomi Long

Justice Minister Naomi Long

Justice Minister Naomi Long has said it is not useful the Northern Ireland power-sharing Executive appears split on coronavirus measures during the outbreak.

On Monday there were further reports of increased tensions over the power-sharing government's approach to the outbreak and the measures to take.

The Executive has been split on the matter of school closures and more recently the essential businesses that should remain open.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill has stated any business that is not essential should close. However First Minister Arlene Foster said if firms could put in place social distancing measures they could remain open.

A forum is to be established with government, labour and business representatives to look at what workplaces could remain open.

Sinn Fein has also called for testing for the virus to be further ramped up and more in line with the levels in the Republic of Ireland.

Justice Minister Naomi Long has said it was "unhelpful" the Executive appeared split on its message saying there needed to be one clear voice.

The thing that will create the most distress and fear and the most nervousness and the most panic in the community is when we do not give clear advice. Naomi Long

She told the BBC decisions were being taken on a UK-wide basis and support for business was also on a UK-wide business.

"There needs to be agreement on these issues and we need to speak clearly and with one voice," the Alliance leader said.

"There has been I think a difference in terms of people's interpretation of the advice that has been given.

"I have to say at times advice from Westminster has not been 100% clear. On one hand people are told not to leave home unless essential, and on the other they are told they can leave for work - which creates conflict.

"That's what we are trying to work our way through."

She said the Executive was determined to protect lives, but also livelihoods.

"People need to know a the end of this crisis they will have a job to go back to because otherwise this will become an even bigger crisis for families.

"We have to work through these questions. It is unhelpful when the Executive are seen to be taking different positions.

"The thing that will create the most distress and fear and the most nervousness and the most panic in the community is when we do not give clear advice."

Speaking on a Sinn Fein ministerial team Facebook live question and answer session, Michelle O'Neill said "testing had to be to the core" of the battle against the outbreak and they would fight for more to be conducted in Northern Ireland.

There has been criticism not enough testing is being done in Northern Ireland. Health authorities in the Republic are aiming to test 15,000 a day. In Northern Ireland that figure is just over 1,000.

"Everyone has a part to play and we all have to play that part," said Michelle O'Neill.

"We all have to act responsibly at this time."

She expressed some of the frustration her party had had with moves takes by the Stormont administration.

"We are in a five-party executive so without agreement we can't always do the things we want to do. We saw that with school closures where that was too long to come about. We also saw that with advice to businesses.

"Sinn Fein are determined to bring you the best possible leadership throughout this pandemic. We will do everything to save lives and protect healthcare workers. We must do everything we can to protect healthcare workers."

She added: "We are going to get through this, there will be dark times ahead.. but we are in this together."

Junior Minister Declan Kearney said it was vitally important more people in Northern Ireland had to be tested on a basis which "matched" levels in the Republic.

"The World Health Organization is the guiding light, the North Star which has advised and directed Sinn Fein's approach.

"We must test, test and test again.

"Testing is the only way we can ensure we locate clusters.. that the sick are separated from the healthy and we take the necessary measures to keep people safe and those that get ill can get support.

"We need expansive levels of testing right across the north."

He said there needed to be over 2,000 tested carried out a day and there needed to be an "island-wide approach" saying Michelle O'Neill had had discussion on agreeing a memorandum of understanding with the Dublin government on codifying cooperation between the two jurisdictions.

Ms O'Neill said she hoped that would be signed off by the Executive in the coming days.

She said: "The disease does not stop at the border, there needs to be all-island consistency.

"There have been differences, which had not been helpful.

"We need to mind each other, look out for each other. Everyone has been so good, everyone has been so supportive, we need to use that energy."

She said employers had to put in "every possible measures" to protect workforces and they would call out "unscrupulous" employers.

"The vast majority are doing the right thing, there are some that are not," she added.

"We accept it is a confusing picture for some people. But the rule of thumb is if you do not need to be in work, you should not be."

She added: "We will put people's, health, lives and safety first... there isn't any rule book on this. No one has been through this before.. we as political leaders will work our way through this in the interests of the people we represent."

Finance Minister Conor Murphy said there would be a budget statement made on Tuesday which would look to address support across a variety of sectors.

Belfast Telegraph